Hi. My name is Heather and I’m a real swimsuit model. Thick thighs, post-baby flab, deflated nursing boobs and all.
Of course I’m not the kind featured in Sports Illustrated. You’ll never see me in a suntan lotion ad or on a billboard holding a summer-y beverage. My modeling role isn’t formal. (Trust me, no one will ever pay to take pictures of me frolicking in the surf.)
I’m more of an “amateur” swimsuit model. My job is not to look perfect. Quite the opposite in fact. But, I’d say my type of modeling career has a far greater purpose. I must show my children what a real woman looks like so that they won’t be swindled by the lies of beauty when they’re older.
Now you may be thinking: What child is checking out how mom looks in a swimsuit? Do they even notice?
To this, I say, you are correct. Our kids don’t examine how we ‘look’ in swimsuits. My children express no concern over my dimply thighs that touch in the middle. They don’t freak out if my suit top rides up and exposes a bit of my love handles. And, they’ve never once mentioned that I should do more crunches to flatten my stomach.
They just want me out there, enjoying summer, with them. They likely don’t think at all about how I look in my swimsuit, now.
But, someday, I know that will change. Someday, they’ll notice that the women on TV don’t have the same build as dear old mom. Someday, my sons will be tempted by the images of women luring them to look. My daughter’s heart will be tested as she’s offered a message of life and love that comes through attaining greater beauty. My son’s heart will be tempted by beauty’s siren to affirm his manhood.
What Can They Learn From a Real Swimsuit Model?
I have a model thin friend nearing thirty who spends hundreds of dollars each month on cellulite cream. I’m not against cellulite cream, but her dependency on the stuff is nearly an addiction. She works out, diets, and spends a lot on clothing. She reads all the fashion mags and never misses the latest movies. Though she’d never say this out loud, she commits in her hearts, each morning, to keep up with beauty. There is no room in her mind to accept a body that will eventually change and no longer meet Hollywood’s standard.
I used to be just like her.
Sure, aging has mellowed me a bit, made me more realistic about my complete lack of control over the aging process. But, living a life bound to beauty is tiring. I want more for my children than that.
Children need to know that real bodies come in all shapes and sizes. They need to understand that real bodies age and change. And, they need to accept and acknowledge that God designed us that way.
Many of our misconceptions about beauty start when we are young. We watch and learn from our parents. If your mom never put on a swimsuit because she was “too fat” — this made an impression on you. If your dad leered at the women in magazines while mocking the neighbor lady who carried a few extra pounds, this also taught you something about physical beauty.
From a very early age we are able to see both real beauty and its counterfeit. Unless our parents point out to us the difference, we are apt to confuse them.
Both our girls and our boys need us to tell them and show them what true beauty is. They need it modeled. They need someone who will not just give lip service to scripture’s exhortations of true beauty, but one who will live it.
The Danger of Not Modeling
I don’t say that lightly.
Culture will taunt our daughters with a dangerous lie that says true happiness, love and all they could ever desire will come if they can wear a size zero while filling a C-cup bikini top. Chasing this lie will only lead to heartache, pain and disappointment. This pain will often manifest in eating disorders, anxiety, depression, insecurity, or other self-destructive behaviors.
Culture will lure our sons with the deafening myth that air-brushed perfection offers sexual satisfaction. It bombards them with messages that women are one-dimensional accessories for their pleasure, not valuable creations made in the image of God. Should they believe the lie that a woman’s physical beauty will fulfill them, they’ll similarly face depression and despair–not to mention anger and frustration in real relationships.
Modeling Requires More Than a Swimsuit
My body does not look like that of a real model. I have stretch marks, cellulite, areas where I can “pinch an inch” and funky marks on my skin in places. But by acting ashamed of the ways my body has changed and aged, I confirm for my children that I believe culture’s definition of beauty. I subtly encourage them to do the same.
If I want my children to learn that true beauty derives from service to Christ, not service to the treadmill, it takes more than just sporting a swimwear three months a year. I must actively teach them to see the truth. I don’t just mean pointing out who’s been air-brushed and who’s making ridiculous, TV commercial claims about how great beauty feels. (Though these activities are helpful.)
Rather, even more important than modeling lycra is modeling a heart that finds its fulfillment in Christ alone. When my heart rests content in this place, I’m better able to show my children an example of true satisfaction–the kind that fake beauty promises, but never brings.
This kind of modeling happens year round, not just in the summer, of course. But, every swimsuit season as I struggle through the dreaded exercise of trying on swimsuits or as I wrestle to accept my own appearance in swimwear, I know that I only have two choices. I can either affirm our culture’s message that the only beautiful body is that of a thin, never-had-a-baby, eighteen-year-old and act ashamed of mine. Or, I can rebel against this lie and enjoy summer in a double-digit sized tankini.
Which would you choose?